July 24, 2020

Christ the Cornerstone

Giving everything for the sake of God’s kingdom

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Mt 13:44).

Have you heard the expression, “Surrender to win?” For those of us who have been taught to fight for what we want, this saying is counterintuitive. It suggests an attitude of passivity that doesn’t do well in competitive situations. And yet, in many areas of life, including the spiritual life, surrender is exactly what is called for if we ever want to gain what we are searching for.

The Gospels are full of examples from the life and teaching of Jesus of situations that demand surrender, sacrificing our will and our apparent self-interest for the sake of a greater good.

The Gospel reading for this weekend (Mt 13:44-52), the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, is a good example.

Speaking in parables, Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven as something so valuable that it is worth giving up everything for it. Whether the example is a treasure buried in a field, a pearl of inestimable worth, or a net thrown into the sea which collects an overabundance of fish of every kind (both good and bad), the point is that we must be willing to sacrifice our own comfort and security to “win” the prize that Jesus’ parables represent.

What is this “pearl of great price” that Jesus compares with the kingdom of heaven? Why is it something that demands we sell everything we have (surrender) in order gain it?

Jesus speaks in parables rather than giving us “a straight answer” because we too easily misinterpret what the words “heaven” and “kingdom” mean. Like Jesus’ disciples, and indeed the people of Israel at the time of the first reading from the First Book of Kings, we think in practical (often superficial) terms.

“Heaven” must a be a geographical concept, a place. And “kingdom” must describe a political reality like the one Solomon inherited from his father, David.

But our literal interpretations miss the point. The whole purpose of the Gospel, and of sacred Scripture as a whole, is to let us in on a great secret: God is with us. He is the treasure buried in a field, the pearl of great price and the overwhelming abundance of fish caught in a net thrown into the sea. This God for whom we long and search for, and too often struggle to understand, is “in our midst,” right in front of our faces, closer to us than we are to ourselves. All we have to do is let go (surrender) and let God enter into our lives.

This is what Solomon asks for in Sunday’s first reading: Wisdom and an understanding heart rather than a long life, riches or victory over his enemies (1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12). With these spiritual gifts of wisdom and compassion, sustained by the grace of God, we have everything we need to surrender and win life’s battles.

Our culture teaches us the opposite. We are told to never let down our guard, to always gain the advantage, and to win at all costs. The results of this attitude of survival of the fittest are too often violence, aggression, inequality and, in the end, profound unhappiness all around. Jesus’ way is different, and it leads ultimately to a far better way of living, to “the reign of God” which brings love, justice, fulfillment and peace.

The kingdom of heaven is not a place. It is not a political program or a human initiative. It is a gift from the God who is always close to us, and who wants us to surrender our own self-centered plans and desires in order to win something far more valuable than anything we can earn or win by our own efforts. God wants us to surrender ourselves in order to win his great gift of love.

The alternative, Jesus tells us, is not easy to contemplate. “Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Mt 13:49-50). If we want to avoid being cut off from God and from each other for all eternity, which is the state of being after death that the parable illustrates with the image of the fiery furnace, we must give up everything in exchange for the love of God.

Let’s pray for the grace to surrender. Let’s win the prize intended for us now and in the world to come. †

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